Land of the free

Don’t walk… Don’t park facing traffic on the other side of the road… Don’t flash your nipples during the Superbowl hour… Don’t touch that liquor until you’re old enough to have been married for five years… Don’t kill (unless you’re Governor of one of the thirty-eight states that zap undesirables)… In particular, don’t kill embryos (wait seventeen years until they’re fully-fledged and maladjusted, then fry them on the electric chair)… Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain (and stop calling him Allah)… Don’t think of bringing your gay boyfriend to meet the folks back home in Alabama… Don’t use your windscreen wipers without turning your headlights on… Don’t mis-spell ‘Mom’, ‘color’ or ‘neighbor’; we don’t like ‘u’… Don’t move until you’ve waited a full five seconds at that Stop sign… Don’t dream of entering the country if you had a hit single called ‘Morning Broken’ in a previous life… In fact, don’t bother applying for a visa if you’re got any Islamic connections whatsoever, it doesn’t matter if, like Swiss-born Terry Ramadan, you’ve been offered a university post and preach religious tolerance and integration, we don’t want your type around here… Don’t interfere in our election (would we ever interfere in anyone else’s?)… Don’t play soccer without shin-pads… Don’t drink beer in a public place if children are within two hundred yards… Don’t apply for home insurance if you own a trampoline, they’re far too dangerous. (Guns? Oh they’re okay, you have a right to protect yourself don’t you?)… Don’t prosecute our President for war crimes, we’re the good guys with God on our side…Don’t dare fire a black woman in the workplace, especially if she’s incompetent. Get rid of a white male instead… Don’t apply for a visa using the name Charles, we don’t recognise that name… Don’t overtake that snail; you’ll break the speed limit… Don’t jaywalk…

…One or two don’ts in the land of the free.

But it’s not all prohibition. You don’t have to wear a crash helmet on your Harley-Davidson. “We strongly advise that you put a safety net around your trampoline, but please feel free to mash your brains on the highway – it’s not our place to tell you what to do. And, if you’re a professional baseball player, go ahead, pump yourself full of steroids, it would be an infringement of your personal liberty for us to test you. And guns, of course you can have them.”

Truth be told there aren’t too many don’ts over here (not on the liberal East Coast). And at least the restrictions tend to be spelt out in plain English (or rather, in even plainer American) rather than back home where, according to our monarch in waiting, everyone is expected to know their place and where a social faux-pas may only be tutted at from behind a twitching net curtain. Perhaps it’s a delusion of the outsider, but the yoke of responsibility really does feel lighter on this side of the Atlantic. Or perhaps it just seems that way because my dear wife is bearing the load, while I’m swanning around and pontificating about differences between the Motherland and its most precocious colony.

Those restrictions that there are seem to exist simply to pave the way for a harmonious society. The emphasis here is on consensus. Ros has found that respect for seniority means enthusiastic assent to anything she suggests (irrespective of whether that suggestion is any good), rather than the surly dissent she’s used to back in London (probably also an automatic reaction unrelated to the quality of the suggestion). This is really bad for me, because it’s a context that makes her grumpy recalcitrant husband seem unreasonable and difficult when in fact I’m always perfectly reasonable and accommodating.

It also raises a niggling concern about the Supreme Authority in America, God’s representative of this land (which obviously means the world, because the national baseball championship is The World Series) and Leader of The Moral Majority. You have to wonder where it might take us if everyone blindly agrees with old George W. when he says things like:

“Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.”

“I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family.”

“Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?”

The election, which I had been dreading before we came here, proved to be high entertainment for our first four months. I was disappointed not to be allowed to vote. I have a perfect record of picking the winner in every election I’ve ever voted in, although whenever I’ve returned to the booth to collect my winnings the buggers have always scarpered. Not that my vote would have made any difference here in Connecticut, as it all took place in Ohio.

The televised presidential debates were compulsive viewing. It felt like an election that mattered, not something I, as a Brit, am accustomed to. There seemed to be some differences between the two options. Something was at stake. Something such as the health of the world, let alone the health of this nation.

I couldn’t help but be impressed by the strategic brilliance of Karl Rove and his crew who masterminded the Fundamental Christian (a.k.a. Republican) victory. The whole thing was a spectacular triumph of fear over hope. I read that the Labour party are now trying to copy Rove’s strategy, but I’m not so sure that the British are quite as susceptible to fearfulness as the Americans. We have, after all, a stiff upper lip and have shown ourselves to be fairly phlegmatic when people blow us up, whereas history has shown our progenies fall for ruses like McCarthy’s ‘reds under your bed’ scare. (Jay has obviously cottoned on to American gullibility. The father of one of his school friends recently asked me if it was true that my son had won a six figure award at an International Yugio Championship!)

A recent survey by USA Today revealed that over two thirds of Americans would favour curbing civil liberties because of terrorism. Curbing civil liberties? But this is the land of the free. George Washington must be doing cartwheels in his grave.

Coming from a country that tends to vote according to self-interest, I was surprised to find an election apparently governed by principle. The five States that contribute the greatest tax revenue (ours included) all voted for a candidate who promised to tax the arse off high earners. The five poorest states went for a candidate who will make them even poorer. The silver lining in the cloud of an election result that makes the world considerably more unstable is that we may well end up with more in our back pocket.

The American election was also officially a triumph of stupidity over intelligence. Seventeen of the eighteen States with an average IQ of 100 or more voted for Kerry. All thirty-two States with an average IQ of less than 100, except Michigan and Oregon, went for George W. Bush. I should mention here that Connecticut qualifies as the most intelligent state with an average IQ of 113. Having met Linda who house-sat for us when we went away last weekend, I’m not sure how it made this average. There must some seriously bright cookies to compensate for such profound retardedness.

Naomi, our Peruvian nanny, may well become our American Nanny this week as she has applied for citizenship in the land of the free. I suggested she wear something other than her Shining Star tee-shirt. It might be mis-interpreted, I said. To qualify as a citizen you need to be able to answer questions such as, ‘Independence day celebrates independence from whom?’ (Answer: England). ‘What country did we fight during the revolutionary war?’ (Answer: England). Which oppressive bunch of fascists did we wop back in 1776? (Answer: England). Who did we humiliate at their national game in 1950? (Answer: England). Which once proud imperialist nation is now putty in our hands? (Answer: England). Who has the yellowiest teeth of them all? (Answer: The English). I’m not sure that this whole thing isn’t going to prejudice Naomi against her new employers. And who’s to say that she won’t then ask her pals in The Path to take us out? I’m becoming paranoid. I must be becoming American.

Personally I think it would be much better if, rather than fill her head with American history and legalese, they concentrated on teaching Naomi to empty Jay’s pockets of toxic yellow sweets before putting them in the same wash as Natasha’s lurid red socks and my pristine white Issey Miyake shirts. (Now not quite so pristine white).

Apparently everyone applying for citizenship is asked if they would be prepared to go to war for America. Say no and you’re deported, nod your head weakly and you may find yourself in Fallujah the following week.

There’s no room for conscientious objectors in the land of the free.

Or cynics.

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